Retired Store Manager David is an old-time bookseller, with a career spent working only at independents, starting with A Change of Hobbit, The Midnight Special Bookstore, Books Inc., Bay Books, and for many years with Mysterious Galaxy. He loves hard science fiction, space opera, literary sf, classic science fiction, fantasy fiction, manga and anime, and the occasional young adult novel.
With war-shamans, Chinese mythological monsters, and a fully-realized social world and back story based on Chinese history, Rebecca Kuang’s The Poppy War is a stunning, distinctive, and completely original debut. Her lead character, Rin, is now the type example of the kick-butt heroine. An outsider — orphan, peasant, dark-skinned — she claws her way into and through the elite military school at Sinegard. Armed with terrible powers taken from the gods, she faces the most extreme moral quandaries of how far she will go to protect her country and to avenge her people. Open the front page, and the story sweeps you away. I can’t believe this is the author’s first book: so accomplished, so powerful, so wonderful! And so, so recommended!
Space Opera! Exactly what Catherynne Valente’s new brilliant hoot of a novel is about! Aliens arrive (weird and nutty ones), and they have serious doubts if humans are really civilized. Their test: a human band has to compete in the galactic version of Eurovision and not finish dead last. Our champion: Decibel Jones, a washed out glam-rock David Bowie has-been. The result: great lunacy and fun! And, along the way, an unending stream of the best bon-mots since Christopher Moore! Space Opera has the funniest opening line of any novel I know of. And that’s just the beginning. Enthusiastically recommended!
Magic is power. For Princess Phela, magic is the power to become Queen, the absolute and unassailable ruler of her world. For Blane, a Bajuman slave and lowest of the low, magic is the power to free his people from servitude and abuse. Blood of the Four is the story of their struggle, magic against magic, and of their bitter apocalyptic war to the death. Along the way, authors Lebbon and Golden deftly upset reader preconceptions regarding plucky kick-ass princesses and heroic freedom-fighters to bring the story to a fabulous conclusion, one wholly unexpected yet perfectly right. Highly recommended!
Sue Burke’s debut novel, Semiosis, is a fascinating and totally original take on that old science fiction chestnut, human colonization of a new world. Burke’s innovation is to insist on telling her story from the standpoint of biological, environmental, and Darwinian realism. As her characters struggle to survive in the alien world, they must inevitably give up their old earth-derived ideologies, social institutions, and finally their very biology. Immigrants into a new natural reality, they undergo the most radical of melting pots, and become something wholly other and strange. Brilliant and thought-provoking.
Tom Miller’s The Philosopher’s Flight is a wonderfully engaging alternative history, in which the great technological and political exploits of early 20th century America were accomplished by magic instead of science, and by women instead of men. So it is that the novel’s hero, Robert Weekes, aspires to attend Radcliffe College, there to study magic, in the hope of joining the Army’s elite flying squad, despite the fact these are all the preserves of women. The story is well-told and gripping, as Robert battles gender prejudice, bonds with his fellow students, and falls in love with war hero Danielle. Author Miller impresses as much with his command of historical detail as with his ability to imagine a fully-realized and absorbing literary world. Highly recommended!
Melissa Caruso’s The Tethered Mage is a historical fantasy, set in an alternative 17th-century Venice where the doge uses the powers of his magical subjects to rule a Mediterranean empire. The novel is also a charming romance, as heroine Princess Amalia fights tradition to realize her love for the commoner soldier Marcello. Above all, the novel is an intelligent and sophisticated exploration of the political dimension of magic, how the power intrinsic to magic draws people inexorably into relationships based on domination and terror, and subsumes magical individuals into the state’s calculus of advantage and control. At once exciting, romantic, and sophisticated, The Tethered Mage is a fresh take on historical fantasy. Highly recommended!
If you like your fantasy dark, with gritty, ruined characters fighting hopeless odds, in a world of endless war, with vast landscapes blighted by destruction, and the characters’ inner landscapes blackened to match, why, then, Ed McDonald’s Blackwing is just the novel for you. Captain Ryhalt Galharrow and his band of bounty hunters are caught in a war between staggering, incomprehensible powers: the Deep Kings for the dark side, the Nameless for the light. Forced to mount a desperate defense of their city against the Deep Kings’ innumerable and imaginatively evil hordes, Ryan & Co. fight on, grimly, for each other, for brief remembered love, and if to die, then at least to die fighting. What a book. Not for the faint-hearted. Highly recommended!
Matt Harry’s Sorcery for Beginners is a fun, fast, and furious story of teenagers discovering that magic is actually real. Fleeing from bullies, Owen Macready ducks into a strange bookstore called Codex Arcanum. Its proprietor insists he take a book of magical instruction called Sorcery for Beginners. Just like that, Owen and his pals become soldiers in a secret war against the terrible Euclideans, people who hate magic and wish to drive it from the world. The book impressively gets the life and tenor of contemporary teens perfectly. And the design of the book — the illustrations, the footnotes, the arrangement of paragraphs on the page — is striking and vivid. Reading the book you know at once that the author is brilliant, the book special, and the pleasure of reading it, wonderful.
Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens is a lovely, remarkable exploration of the heart of magic. Isobel paints the Fair Folk’s portraits, in exchange for useful spells and cantrips. When her portrait of Rook, the Autumn Prince, violates all taboos and discloses his secret human feelings of sorrow, Isobel is seized and taken to Fairie to answer for her crime. The novel artfully balances human qualities against fay ones: mortality and immortality, human craft and fairy magic, peasant life and fairy aristocracy. And though separated by all these aspects, Isobel and Rook are still drawn to each other, in an impossible love. This extraordinary book, on the level of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell or Lud-in-the-Mist, is the author’s debut novel. True magic.
In An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard imagines a war among the magical families of New York City, conducted by duels brilliant, gorgeous, and fatal, to decide which of the Houses will rule the rest. Breaking into this circle of genteel violence is Sydney, the novel’s heroine, an outsider of extraordinary magical ability--and rage. For Sydney knows, bitterly and personally, the dreadful secret of the magical aristocrats’ power. Follow Sydney as she pursues her vengeance and fights to free the magical world of corruption, in a tale that is exciting, imaginative, and dark. Magic has its price. Even Sydney must pay it. Highly recommended!
Kay Kenyon’s At the Table of Wolves is everything you like in WWII spy thrillers – louche British aristocrats of dubious loyalty, charming but diabolical Nazis hiding dreadful plots against England, a wonderfully strong, intelligent heroine pressed to her limit to save the day – but with psychic powers thrown into the mix. Kim Tavistock has the power to get people to confess their deepest secrets without intending or realizing it. She is up against a Nazi spy with hidden talents of his own, working in league with a mole at the heart of British intelligence. Will Kim discover their deadly secrets before the Nazi plots bring England to her knees? Read At the Table of Wolves to find out! A fun, fast read. Highly recommended!
Zachary Mason’s Void Star dazzles with its intricate tale of mentally-boosted people fighting a clandestine war with secret AIs across the battle-space of memory, perception, and cyberspace, in a world gone noir with political collapse, climate change, corporate warlords, and universal surveillance. Giving the story an almost hallucinatory intensity is Mason’s marvelous, superb language, at once endlessly allusive, lush, and incantatory. Reading the book, you suddenly realize he is writing science fiction of the heart, where science and technology make possible new sensations, new feelings, new dreams. During reading you feel awe; afterwards, gratefulness. The best book I’ve read in six years of bookselling at MG. Void Star is one of the great science fiction novels of our time.
How wonderful to find that one of your favorite authors (Kij Johnson, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, The Fox Woman) loves H P Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath as much as you do! Johnson's pastiche brings back Lovecraft's zugs and ghouls and moon-cats, now imagined inside-out, where dream Kadath is the real world, and the human waking world a far-away, legendary place. The quest Vellitt Boe undertakes to find the human world redeems the original work of its misogyny and racism, and reminds us of just how strange our own ordinary reality can be. Highly recommended.
I loved the narrative underlying the smash game Witcher 3, so I wasn't surprised to find out the game is based on a series of books by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. What took me by surprise was just how good these books are! The benighted love between Geralt and Yennefer, their affection for their foster child Ciri, the complex melange of altruism, racism, love, and hatred between humans, dragons, dwarves, and elves, the sheer humor of the author's storytelling, and the all-too-human history and mythic background that underlie the characters' individual stories--all of these elements combine to create a profound and classic work of fantasy. I am busy reading every word of Sapkowski's translated into English--you should too.
In The Fortress at the End of Time, Joe McDermott writes military science fiction of an almost unbearable psychological intensity. Ensign Ronaldo Aldo, a clone posted to the farthest outpost of human galactic civilization, is torn by the angst of clones, doubting his own humanity. He encounters in excruciating detail the mania and despair of military personnel isolated in the ultimate dead-end assignment. He suffers both the guilt of those who crack under the strain and the guilt of those who survive. And he finds himself obscurely sustained by the hope of transcendence that sustains people stressed continuously to their limit. A highly original, completely affecting work.
The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical Russian fairy-tale of a novel, a gorgeous Ivan Bilibin illustration come to life. There are rusalkas, upyrs, and domovoi, the supernatural creatures of Russian folk-tales; Tsars and boyars, priests and peasants, the traditional inhabitants of medieval Russian tales; and there are bears and wolves and snow and unrelenting winter that in an instant evoke Russia for us in our imaginations. Then there is Vasya, the heroine of the tale, whose courage and resourcefulness when facing family troubles, natural disasters, courtly intrigues, mad monks, and a deep, implacable magical evil make the fairy tale real and immediate. Author Katherine Arden has written the best of books: a book which we never knew we wanted, and now can't live without. The Bear and the Nightingale is orginal, brilliant, and wonderful. My highest recommendation.
Michael Chabon’s Moonglow is a wonderful memoir of his grandparents, which, in the telling of their lives, creates an extraordinary portrait of the world in which they lived. All our recent history, great and small, is inside this book: the space program, pythons in Florda’s retirement communities, Wild Bill Donovan and the OSS, you name it. Chabon tells his story with love: you become so much a part of his world, his grandparents become so much your own imaginary family, you hardly notice they are never named--just as your own parents are really Mom and Dad, their names being just by the way. If literary imagination can redeem the late twentieth century, Michael Chabon has done it. Moonglow is a fabulous literary achievement
Robert Dickinson’s The Tourist is a terrifically smart time-travel novel. Dickinson gets everything right about time travel, were it real: the time tourists and the time tourism business, the music fans from the future shadowing Bach and Beethoven, and more darkly, how all our human prejudices and politics would get themselves mapped onto slices of time, with one period admiring, hating, and ignoring another, just as we do to each other now on account of race, religion, and gender. The narrative is a wonderful puzzle, as the reader puts together pieces of time to figure out just what is going on, just what is at stake. The Tourist is a challenging, intelligent, and satisfying read
In The Queen of Blood, humanity lives in an uneasy balance with the spirits of the natural world. The spirits make possible all life, but they also are greedy for life's inevitable harvest--death. To protect themselves, people rely upon the queen, and her coterie of magical women. The novel follows Daleina, a young girl with magical powers, as she rises through the ranks of witches. And as she does, the title of the novel becomes redolent with unexpected connotations and references. You read the book with a growing horrid fascination, until by the end you are amazed and appalled. The heroine of The Queen of Blood is a woman of steel--and you have to be someone of steel yourself to read her story. A great read. Highly recommended!
This Savage Song is a wonderful young adult novel set in a post-apocalyptic America, where the two main characters, August and Kate, must confront monsters, human and otherwise, their own fathers, who happen to be the enemy warlords of their divided city, and themselves, as they are drawn into irrevocable choices by the dark appeal of their own savage natures. But infusing this bleak world is an intense yearning for redemption, to bring good out of evil and beauty out of horror that lends this book a deeply-felt and wholly remarkable spiritual quality. The pacing is fast, the narrative enthralling, but it is the depths of the novel--its acuteness of moral imagination and perception--that will stay with you afterwards. My highest recommendation.
A wonderful fantasy debut! Think magic in Victorian Britain, a Jane Eyre-like magician apprentice Ceony, who is falling in love with her mentor Magician Thorne, and must save him from a vengeful ex-lover. Features the most amazing, brilliant, and imaginative sequence, where Ceony is transported into her mentor's heart, a place of his memories and dreams--but also an actual heart, complete with blood and aortas!
New! Original! Different! And very highly recommended!!!
Schwab imagines four Londons, that differ by their distance from magic’s dark heart. Farthest away is Grey London, of our 18th-century. Next is Red London, where magic proliferates, followed by White London, where magic is power, and the strong prey upon the weak. Finally there is Black London, an unimaginable horror the other worlds have shut out for their own safety.
The story follows Kell, a magician who can travel between Londons. When he is tricked into smuggling a stone originally from Black London via White London into Red London, a terrifying cascade of events follows, as black magic begins to pour across worlds. Kell’s only help is Lila, a wonderfully brave and resourceful thief. Together, they must face down the dark magic that threatens to destroy everything.
Featuring appealing main characters, splendidly wicked villains, and a horrifying conception of magic, Schwab’s fantasy will shock you and thrill you. Highly recommended!
A stunning, unforgettable novel. Ishiguro tells the story of three children living at an odd British boarding school, as they discover the school's peculiar purpose and their own destiny in the world outside the school. The novel uses science fiction elements, drawn from biomedical science, to explore the essence of humanity and the nature of human life. Told with a steady, metronomic tone, the narrative eschews sentiment and easy idealization, and invites the reader to understand and finally to accept the dark necessity that underlies human existence. Never Let Me Go is a great work of literature: profound, moving, and deeply illuminating.
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn is an utterly compelling fantasy novel. You start at the very bottom, with Vin, an orphan thief barely surviving on the city streets. By luck, she joins up with Kelsier, a gang leader and a revolutionary, whose dream is to take down the thousand-year rule of the Lord Ruler, the dark lord of the tale. Everything seems to be against them: the Lord Ruler's many magical agents and secret police, the dead weight of a class-riven society dedicated to perpetuating the privilege of the ruling elite, and not least, the Lord Ruler's own mysterious power, which has allowed him to overwhelm all resistance for a millennium. But Vin and Kelsier have magic of their own, lots of imagination and willingness to take impossible risks and do impossible things, and most powerful of all, the hope for a better future. Sanderson gives us a rousing tale as he details Vin and Kelsier's exciting fight for freedom.
Give the gift of Dreams! Follow Randolph Carter into the farthest reaches of dreamland, accompanied by Lovecraft's menagerie of ghouls, zugs, and moon cats, to a conclusion both surprising and sublime. 'The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,' included in Dreams of Terror and Death.
Give the gift of Beauty! Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is like a long luxurious dream, filled with striking imagery and suffused with passion, that simply heaps you with beauty. You awake from reading this forlorn. Doubleday.
The Night Circus is like no other book I have read. You may read it as a novel, with strong characters and enthralling story well and deftly handled, but these usual literary suspects are besides the point of explaining why this book is so strange and appealing. Really, the book is about a place, the night circus itself, with its impossible collection of acts, illusions, and wonders. The place in turn is a world of art, done up principally in silver and black, with other colors appearing as accents, to create for the reader a remarkable visual experience. And the art in turn expresses the interior life of dreams and passions. Everywhere there is beauty, more and more beauty. You read The Night Circus, finally, for the experience, for the intense experience of lapidary beauty and luminous imagination. What a wonderful, truly magical, book!
A wonderful modern fairy tale, with love, loss, and magic: not the flashy kind, but the magic of the heart and soul. Real magic! This novel is the masterpiece you have never heard of, and my favorite book by an American writer.
Wow! This series is good! Weeks gets everything right: great appealing characters, surprising plot twists, evil villains so wicked young children should not read these books, and even moral reflection. But basically--a terrific read. I couldn't put it down.